Campus Visit Notes: Lafayette College

College: Lafayette College

Location: Easton, PA

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 2,500 students

Admissions Advice: Lafayette is growing and expanding beyond its traditional reach in the upper-middle class communities on the east coast. They are seeking to diversify the college in terms of geography and ethnicity, and have many great programs aimed at attracting these students. Like most colleges, it is becoming increasingly competitive each year. Currently, the acceptance rate is around 28% and the average admitted student has a 3.5+ unweighted GPA.

Most popular majors: Engineering, Psychology, Biology, Economics, Visual & Performing Arts

Words to describe students I met: well-rounded, social, researchers, active, hard-working, friendly

Unique academic aspects:  Lafayette is truly a unique college. It is one of only a few small liberal arts colleges in the nation to offer a range of Engineering majors, including chemical, electrical and computer, civil, mechanical, and a more general engineering studies degree. They also have a computer science program. Research opportunities for students in STEM fields are much easier to come by than at larger universities, and I was thoroughly impressed with the facilities and professor access my guides talked about during the tour.

On the seemingly opposite end of the spectrum, Lafayette also excels in the social sciences and sends a huge number of students to study abroad programs each year. They offer interim programs in both January and May, giving students the chance to do shorter study abroad programs as well as the more traditional full semester programs. Recent interim offerings include the study of healthcare in Cuba, geology in Iceland, and evolution in the Galapagos Islands, among other courses of study.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Lafayette College is one of the smallest schools with full-fledged men’s and women’s Division I athletics programs. Soccer and lacrosse have been particularly strong in recent years. The football rivalry with nearby Lehigh University is one of the most intense rivalries in the nation. This college strikes a good balance between academics and athletics, and gives students the chance to root on DI teams where they are likely to know at least 1-2 members of each team.

Lafayette also has a vibrant Greek life on campus, with approximately 30% of students participating in fraternity or sorority life. Again, this is more typical of a larger university, but is available and quite popular on this small campus. My tour guide wasn’t a member of Greek life and didn’t feel pressured into it in order to have a social life; however, it can be a big part of a student’s college experience if he/she desires it.

Colleges that seem similar:  Davidson College, Bucknell University, Lehigh University, Union College, Colgate University

Concerns about this college: I spoke to several students during my tour who noted the lack of ethnic diversity was a concern about the campus. However, as I mentioned above, this is something the college is actively working on as they expand their recruitment and seek to grow in the coming years. Additionally, Lafayette has a strong reputation for Engineering and Economics programs in particular, but is less-known for other majors in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. One student I spoke with (majoring in Government and Law) was concerned about her job prospects as compared to her peers majoring in the more popular fields of study, noting that there haven’t been as many internships and recruiting events for students majoring in more traditional liberal arts realms. I’d say this isn’t unique to Lafayette, but is something for students to take into consideration.

Overall impressions:  My experience at Lafayette really surprised me. I expected the college to be much more focused on engineering and computer science, and much less social. However, the students I met were all interested in a range of different academic majors and were engaged in clubs I wouldn’t have expected to exist on this campus (feminist club, LGBTQ club, social justice groups, etc.). The social life includes so many elements of a larger university experience for students seeking DI athletics and Greek life, but within a small, supportive, and highly collaborative liberal arts setting. This is a college that has flown under the radar, but, because of its truly unique blend of opportunities, I can see it becoming a much more popular choice (and one I would highly recommend) for students in the coming years.



Campus Visit Notes: Haverford College


College: Haverford College

Location: Haverford, PA (about 12 miles from Philadelphia)

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 1,300

Admissions Advice: Haverford is a very selective liberal arts college, admitting approximately 20% of applicants in recent years. They place a high value of intellectual curiosity, motivation, and love to see applicants take the initiative on admissions interviews. They also fill a fairly large portion of their entering class through Early Decision, so this is a great option for the student who knows Haverford is the right college for her/him.

Most popular majors: Political Science, English, Biology, Economics, Psychology

Words to describe students I met: driven, collaborative, humble, research-oriented, involved, community-builders

Unique academic aspects: More than half of Haverford professors actually live on campus! This, coupled with very small classes and lots of seminars, ensures that students are really engaged with faculty. Because there are no graduate students around, faculty rely on undergraduates to assist in their research, and it isn’t uncommon for students to get published before graduating. Additionally, all students are required to complete a senior thesis project.

Despite being a small college, Haverford has a great reputation in the science community. The National Science Foundation ranks Haverford highly for sending high percentages of students on to engineering and science PhD programs, and students regularly receive prestigious fellowships and research funding in these fields.

Unique social/cultural aspects:  Haverford, like neighboring Bryn Mawr College, is proud of its Honor Code. Students are charged with self-governing and regulating across both social and academic realms. For example, take-home tests are the standard, and student juries often oversee disciplinary action for their fellow students.

Additionally, Haverford is a “wet” campus, meaning that alcohol is allowed on the campus. Many other liberal arts colleges follow this model (including my alma mater, Claremont McKenna). This policy ensures that students who do plan to take part in the party scene are doing so on campus and in a safe environment, instead of driving off campus. That said, Haverford doesn’t have Greek life and isn’t a huge party school by any means. However, there are often joint social events with Bryn Mawr just a mile away.

Colleges that seem similar: Carleton College, Pomona College, Swarthmore College, Claremont McKenna

Concerns about this college: Haverford definitely feels like a bit of a suburban ‘bubble’ just a short distance away from one of the largest cities in America. Though the student body is actually quite diverse for a liberal arts college, it definitely does not reflect the diversity of the Philadelphia area. Partnerships with programs like QuestBridge are helping to bridge that gap, however.

Overall impressions: I thoroughly enjoyed my extended visit to Haverford. I got to hear from an admissions representative and learned just how seriously they take their holistic review. I also heard about research and academic life from a very impressive panel of current students and faculty, and I enjoyed strolling the beautiful campus with our tour guide. Haverford seems like the perfect place for the hard-working student who thrives with collaborative work, and loves being motivated and inspired by his peers. Though it is a small campus community and feels a bit like a little family, Philadelphia is just 20 minutes away, and the consortium with Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, and University of Pennsylvania ensures that students have lots of academic and social options.

How to Write a Stellar “Why Us?” Essay

For students applying to selective universities, the “Why Us?” supplemental essay can be a very important part of the admissions process. The Common Application makes it incredibly easy for students to apply to a large number of colleges with the simple click of a button, but more selective universities seek specific details on why a student is interested in their college or university. Smaller colleges and more selective universities tend to include a supplemental essay in the application as a way of ensuring that the student understands the mission and culture of that unique university. However, larger and less selective universities are now also including similar essays. With many students applying to ten, fifteen, even twenty colleges, the “Why Us?” essay can be the deciding factor for students on the cusp.

So what makes a thoughtful and quality “Why Us?” essay?

• Change the response to “Why Me”. Students should use the essay space to talk about why they would be a good fit at that specific college. Applicants should tie in their academic and extracurricular experiences to opportunities at that college.

• Be as specific as possible. Responses to this essay should be extremely specific to that college, and the response should ultimately be something that could not be used for any other college. When writing about an interest in a specific major, students should go beyond just mentioning the program name. Rather, they should talk about specific classes they hope to take, or a particular professor who is doing interesting work at that university.

• Write about experiences on that campus or meetings with representatives or alumni. Chances are the college has tracked a student’s interaction with them over time; however, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate this demonstrated interest. If a student had a meaningful interaction with an alumnus or admission officer, or if the student fell in love with the college during a campus tour, these are great examples to cite in the essay.

What should students avoid?

• Location, location, location. If a student is applying to college in California because he loves sunshine, this might not be the best topic to write about in the limited essay space. Likewise, if a student is excited to attend a college because it is a mere 1.5 hours from NYC, it suggests the student is more interested in activities off-campus than spending time at the college itself. Certainly location is a big factor in choosing a college, but it should not be the focal point of this brief essay.

• Sports teams, mascots, and school colors. Applicants should not waste the supplemental essay space with a response focused on athletics. Application readers know their school colors and mascot’s name already, so students should not simply re-state those facts. One obvious exception would be the student who is planning to play a sport and is a recruited athlete.

Keep in mind the majority of these supplemental essays are very short, between 100-300 words on average. Students don’t generally have space to write a well-developed multi-paragraph essay, so essays that get straight to the point often work best. The main Common Application essay is a better place for students to showcase their unique writing style and voice, while the supplemental essay is the perfect place to pinpoint interest and interactions with the college. Outside of the evaluative admission interview, it is the best place for students to paint a picture of themselves as future leaders and community members on that campus.

Follow me: Parry College Counseling social media

Follow me!

As more and more people start to visit my blog to learn about college campuses and read my take on current admissions trends, I thought I’d let you know about a few other places where you can “follow” or “like” me. The number of followers and likes I get is very strongly correlated to my sense of self-worth, so please follow, like and share!

(Mostly sarcasm, something difficult to convey in a blog or, for that matter, in a college essay. But I digress…)

Facebook: Parry College Counseling

Being a typical Millennial, I am not a huge fan of Facebook for personal use. However, I do love the ability to post longer reactions to articles or slideshows of photos from campus visits. Check it out!

Twitter: @CollegeAppsHelp

The college admissions and counseling community is really strong on Twitter. I regularly participate in college planning chats or share my 140-character take on current events. Twitter-friendly parents will find a wealth of great resources using these hashtags: #collegechat, #campuschat, #collegebound, #EMchat, and #insightchat, among others.

LinkedIn:  Heather Parry

If you’re dying to know exactly how many high schools I visited during recruitment season at UW or which events I helped plan at Claremont McKenna College, let’s connect on LinkedIn. I do also post more academic or research-oriented articles here intended for the college counseling and enrollment management community.

And don’t be afraid to reach out through a good old-fashioned email either – Thanks for reading!

Tips for Preparing for College Admission Interviews

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my seniors on college admission interview preparation and coaching, one of my favorite parts of the admissions process. Interviews are only offered by a small percentage of colleges out there, those that are highly selective and, generally speaking, smaller. They range from purely informational interviews with enthusiastic local alumni to full-blown evaluative interviews with the admission representative who will be reading your application (and partially deciding your fate).

My general advice is this: If you describe yourself as an outgoing, well-spoken and confident communicator, the interview is an opportunity you should take advantage of, particularly for your top colleges. This is the best time for you to showcase your personality and the energy you will bring to the campus. However, if the thought of looking a stranger in the eyes and telling them about your life for an hour sounds miserable, the interview might not be the best place for you to shine. Don’t force yourself into a situation where you will be uncomfortable or awkward, as that certainly will not help your chances of being admitted. Let the essay and the other parts of the application do the work for you. (I know some colleagues would disagree with me on this and tell students to interview at every single college that offers them. However, I have experienced many painfully awkward interviews where the student was so nervous that they didn’t seem ready for the social realities of my college. At a college with discussion-based classes and strongly opinionated peers, this isn’t going to cut it).

If you decide to move forward and schedule an interview, here are a few of my tips for success!

  1. Write an interview-specific resume and hand it to the interviewer. This is often helpful in guiding the conversation and helps you to remember all of those awesome things you have accomplished.
  2. Think of the top 3 stories or situations the interview HAS to know about you by the end of the conversation. Make sure you present these stories as a response to a question or at the end when they ask if there is anything else you’d like to share.
  3. Do your research and tell them WHY you want to attend their college. This is the most important part and, sadly, it is often overlooked. One of the biggest reasons colleges offer interviews is to allow the student to highlight why they are interested in the college and why the culture is a good fit for their personality and interests. Go beyond generalities (I just really want a liberal arts college!) and talk about professors, classes or clubs that you have researched. Help the interviewer envision you as a part of that college community.
  4. Resist the temptation to overshare. Often, the person interviewing you will only be a few years older than you, whether they are a current senior or a recent graduate. While it is okay to relax and have it be a conversation, it is not okay to talk about how you’ve been partying for years and are excited for the larger scale parties and rambunctious social life of their college (I’ve had that happen on more than one occasion!) Likewise, the interviewer doesn’t need to know that your boyfriend or best friend are going to that college as well, and that’s why you just have to get in.
  5. Ask questions. As with any interview, you should always prepare a few questions to ask at the end. Questions should be tailored to the college and are another opportunity to show you’ve done your research. You should also think of questions specific to that interviewer’s experience attending the college.

After the interview is done, be sure to follow-up within a few days with a thank you note or email. Hopefully this is helpful as you prepare for college interviews. Best of luck!

Seniors: How to stay ahead of the chaos this fall

Senior year has arrived!  You all know that now is the time to focus on developing your college list and writing that standard college essay. Your high school counselor will likely give you a checklist of items to do this fall focused on getting applications prepared and submitted on time. However, here are a few less well known (but still important) things seniors should focus on in the beginning of the school year:

Letters of recommendation requests 

If you are applying to Common Application colleges or, generally speaking, selective universities, be sure to identify teachers to write your letters of recommendation early. Look through your college list and see how many letters are required and from whom. The most competitive colleges will require two letters of recommendation from teachers in core academic subject areas (math, science, language, social studies, English) plus a counselor letter. Some colleges will allow you to submit an extra letter from someone outside of those traditional subjects as long as the letter will shed light on something new about you. Some valid examples of others you might ask: employer, fine arts teacher or club adviser.

The key part is asking early. If you attend a large public high school, that popular English teacher may be asked to write over a hundred letters of recommendation (literally), so asking at the beginning of the year will make sure you’re on the top of the list. Also, as you might suspect, your teacher will be more enthusiastic about writing letters earlier in the year compared to deadline time.

Scheduling admissions interviews

As an alumni interviewer for the past several years, I can tell you that the students who contact me earlier in the interview season have a slight advantage. They are demonstrating their interest in the college early and showing me that they are on top of things. On my end, I am refreshed and excited to start interviewing students each year in September and October. Once the holiday season approaches in November, I am often starting to get burnt out on interviews and need to begin saying no. Friends who interview off-site for other colleges (Pomona, Occidental, etc. ) echo my sentiments. Typically you will be able to request admissions interviews starting in September, so prepare early!

Have the financial fit conversation with mom and dad

It is absolutely crucial for students and parents to have a conversation about financial fit before the college list is finalized and applications are submitted. Parents should use this as a tool to teach their child about budgeting (students are, in fact, about to enter adulthood!). Have a frank discussion about finances and establish some boundaries for total cost per year, loan amounts that you are comfortable with, student employment expectations, etc. Decide what is best for your situation and make sure that your college list includes schools that are more of a financial safety based on total cost of attendance or likelihood of qualifying for financial aid or merit scholarships. Getting on the same page early ensures that there aren’t awkward conversations later once decisions and award letters come out.

Campus Visit Notes: University of Michigan

About two weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a full day at the University of Michigan, just a short one-hour drive from where I grew up in Ohio. I had visited the campus and college town of Ann Arbor many times as a child, but I was in need of a longer and more formal evaluative campus visit. Because I was in town during summer break, I wasn’t able to do a traditional tour. However, I designed my own visit (which I encourage families to do if visiting during a slow time of year).

I spent a full day wandering around campus, popping into buildings, peeking into facilities and asking questions of the students wandering around. I also met with the admissions representative for Seattle, an undergraduate engineering adviser, a representative from the Ross School of Business, and a former colleague who works in residential life. Below is my summary of this non-traditional visit.

College:  University of Michigan

Location: Ann Arbor, MI (approximately 45 minutes from Detroit)

Type of Institution: Tier I public research university

Size: ~28,000 undergraduate students

Admissions Advice: Apply early! My admissions representative was very open and honest about just how helpful it is for students to select early action (applying before November 1st). This is less competitive for admissions and also provides a greater chance for merit scholarships. Additionally, I was surprised to learn that demonstrated interest in the school as shown through visits, emails with the admissions office, and a compelling “Why U – M” essay are actually incorporated into the review. However, given the sheer volume of applicants, he also advised that students should really only apply if they are within or very close to the university’s middle 50% for GPA and test scores (3.7+ and 2040-2260 SAT / 30-33 ACT, respectively). Because it is a public university, Michigan natives do have priority.

Most popular majors: Business, political science, experimental psychology, economics, English

Words to describe students I met: The campus in the summer looks and feels very different from the campus during the school year. There are many more graduate and international students onsite during the summer months, so I recognize that my visit interactions weren’t reflective of the typical student body. However, I did meet a few undergraduates and know many high school classmates who attended Michigan. They can be described as: focused, science-y, spirited, not afraid to take initiative, studious and outgoing.

Unique academic aspects: I have long been impressed with Michigan’s engineering program. Their direct freshman entry is pretty amazing. A student who is admitted to engineering starts in the program immediately and is guaranteed a spot in any specific engineering discipline they desire (assuming they maintain a 2.0+ GPA in the freshman year). This is surprisingly unique among selective research universities and allows students to make a much more informed choice about which engineering major is the best fit for them after starting at the university. I also learned that U – M recently started conducting invitation-only alumni interviews for prospective engineering students in a handful of cities throughout the U.S. (Seattle is included). Students are selected based on the application which must be submitted by mid-October.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Ann Arbor is the quintessential college town, a strange academic oasis in the land of automotive factories and working class America. The student body at U – M is very diverse, and so are the food and nightlife options in Ann Arbor. The region has a large Middle Eastern population (the largest outside of the Middle East, in fact), which contributes to great on-campus discussions and opportunities for students with an interest in this part of the world.

Colleges that seem similar: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Washington, University of California (Berkeley, Davis, LA in particular), University of Virginia

Concerns about this college: The campus is very large and quite spread out. For a student double majoring in different disciplines, getting to and from classes could be more of a challenge than at your average university. There is a free bus running between north and south campus fairly regularly, but it can still take 20-30 minutes to get from Point A to Point B.

Overall impressions:  I am really glad I spent a full day exploring this large and diverse campus and learning about some of the top programs of interest for Seattle-area students. I leave this visit feeling much more excited about the Engineering program, especially for students with an interest in working in the automotive industry or computer science realms. The school has a lot to offer for a range of students, from the super social “rah-rah” fraternity bro to the research-oriented neuroscience major. It is truly one of the nation’s most impressive public institutions and I leave the visit feeling even more confident that students who attend will be able to graduate on time with a job already lined up.